Friday, August 1, 2014

NYC: 5 Things You Must Do in New York This Summer

This post comes to you guys a bit late since we're in the full swing of summer. But, it's was a long long winter, so I'm excited to have this summer sun come out in New York City. After spending three summers in Manhattan, there are definitely a few things that I look forward to doing every summer.

With only 1 month left (how is it August already??), here's a quick list of New York City summertime activities that almost makes me (almost) forget why I miss California...

1. Smorgasbord


The first activity on my list is, of course, food related. Smorgasbord is hands down the BEST food market in New York City. Every weekend, around 75-100 food vendors gather to put together a smörgåsbord of food in Brooklyn for your enjoyment. It's been so popular that they've added a new time and location for 2014.

On Saturdays, you can find Smorgasbord in Williamsburg at East River State Park (90 Kent Ave at N. 7 St.) and on Sundays, you can find the new location of Smorg in DUMBO at Tobacco Warehouse (30 Water St.) from 11am-6pm, rain or shine.


Some stalls are a hit or miss, but my personal favorites include fried anchovies from Bon Chovie (heads on, Jersey Style), doughnuts from Dough (fluffy Mojito doughnuts) and bomb milk shakes & grilled cheeses from Milk. Check out the Smorg's list for a full list of vendors.

Just be sure to come with a few friends so you can try a variety of things by the picnic tables and grass area around the market.

2. Shakespeare in the Park



I I've talked about this in a recent blog post - but really - Shakespeare in the Park is such a unique New York summertime experience. You really have to go see it for yourself and experience the beauty of it. Since 1962, this annual tradition currently features two different production of William Shakespeare's plays every summer. It often features celebrity actors who performs each play in the beautiful Delacorte Theatre, right in the middle of Central Park.

There are a few ways to get your hands on the free tickets including waiting in line and using the virtual ticketing system - see my blog post about getting free tickets to this awesome event.

3. Summer Streets


Is there anything more awesome than Park Avenue being closed down to cars on Saturday mornings throughout August? I don't think so. With the streets closed, New Yorkers and vistors alike can roam and bike through 7 miles of open road in Manhattan from 7am-1pm without having to worry about getting run over in busy traffic. In 2014, the dates for Summer Streets is August 2, 9 & 16.

Biked up to a completely empty Central Park!


Summer Streets has quickly become a tradition for me & J - we do it every weekend. Since it's so close to our apartment, we grab free bikes right when it opens at 7AM since that's when the streets are emptiest. We bike up to central park, make a loop and get back down to midtown east. The later it gets, the more crowded the streets, but that's fun in its own way too. There's also a ton of rest stops with activities and booths from all the sponsors. This is DEFINITELY a summer must!

4. Picnics in Central Park


Central Park is a true safe haven for those sick of the congested concrete jungle. Miles and miles of...trees and nature? There's nothing like gathering the best eats of Manhattan (alllll the good noms from Zabars: cheese, smoked salmon and cured meats), a few bottles of wine and a picnic blanket to lounge around and people watch with friends on the weekend. My favorite spots to picnic is Sheep's Meadow and the Great Lawn.

5. Outdoor Movies 


Outdoor Movies is one of the biggest NYC events over the summer. There are free outdoor movies everywhere: Bryant Park, Central Park, RiverFlicks by the Hudson, the list goes on and on! My favorite location is by the Hudson because you see the sun setting which is just beautiful. I recommend
securing a spot at around 6:30PM, gather your friends and a picnic and hang out until the screenings begin (usually at around 8PM when the sun starts to set). The Skint has a great complete list for 2014 - be sure to catch a showing before the summer is over!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Learnings from 6 Weeks of Weight Lifting as a Newbie!

I can't believe it, I am almost halfway through the Bite Sized Fitness Challenge! Six weeks ago, I decided to finally to adding weights into my workout routine. As a complete lifting newbie, I was lucky to find BiteSizedFitness's Instagram account and her 12 week fitness challenge. On BiteSizedArmy.com, there are new sets of workouts every week, basically a lifting routine, 5 days a week at the gym, each day dedicated to chest, legs, back, shoulder and arms.


For those of you who are just starting out or thinking about it, maybe you can relate to these thoughts - I wanted to give you an update since this will be the ONLY time I'll ever be a "lifting newbie" ever again. It's truly amazing how much I have grown in the past 6 weeks.

The hard part...

  • Learning a new language. Getting started in this challenge, I felt like I was completely clueless to what any of these workouts meant. Just like learning anything new, this is going to be difficult when you first get started. The first few weeks, I found myself fumbling around and wandering around the weights section of the gym a little clueless. Undoubtedly, most things took me longer than it had to, but I'm glad I started it.
  • Good Form, Bad Form. The trainers at my gym must have noticed that I was a fresh fish in the pond because during my first week, 2 of them came up to me to give me advice about having better form. (Also to solicite my business I am guessing.) This actually made me feel even more self-conscious but I just put my headphones on and kept on at it. I took their feedback and worked on correcting myself. In the beginning, I was using weights that were too heavy, making me compensate by having bad form. For the rest of the week I concentrated on which muscles I was supposed to focus on, and always made sure that I didn't have to use the wrong parts of my body to compensate (usually shrugging shoulders and lower back). Goodness, who knew 10 lbs can be so heavy!!
  • Research Research Research. For me, these 6 weeks of doing this challenge was a bit time consuming because I was trying to figure out how to do all the exercises that were listed, and also to figuring out how to do it with good form. This research usually took me an additional 1 hour of work before each week started, but it was worth it. I found that as the weeks progressed I was better able to understand which muscle I'm working during which exercises and now that I know the lingo, I don't have to look up exercises as often. As a part of my research, I googled each of the exercises and looked for images for it. If that was still unclear, I watched YouTube videos that goes through what I was supposed to do. To make things even better, your smartphone is probably going to be your biggest friend when you're at the gym and are still a bit confused! 


The fun & exciting part...

  • Confidence! Who knew some of these exercises could be so fun? Yes, they are intimidating at first, but I had a strong sense of accomplishment when I finally put my mind to it and was basically forced to try the scariest things at the gym. The squat rack was always so intimidating to me, but guess what? After your first time, you'll never be a complete stranger to it anymore. Even if you make a fool out of yourself the first time around, it only gets better. Now, have that multiplied by six weeks and I am now going up to the rack with confidence. This holds true for a ton of exercises that I love now and can't wait to bring into my regular workouts.
  • Better posture? An unexpected side effect of my lifting is that I've noticed that I have better posture. When I told a few people about this, they said yes, it's because your back muscles are stronger now so you can hold your chest up higher. Who knew? But I like it!
  • Routines help motivate. Not sure if this holds true for everyone, but ever since I got started on this routine of having to complete all of my workouts every week, I have grown more comfortable with the idea of having to go to the gym to do them. The first few weeks were definitely the hardest, but I found that during the last 2 weeks, when I asked myself the question "Do I REALLLLLY need to go to the gym today?", it was easier to come to the conclusion of Yes. Something about knowing what to expect out of the session really helped. 

Results?

I know, I know, with all that excitement, I know you're wondering about what most people wonder when someone goes through any fitness changes. For the record, in the past 6 weeks, I've gained some weight. This might be a big discouraging to see because I've been spending an average of 1-2 hours in the gym, 5x a week. However, the biggest compliments came to me earlier this week from my spin instructor Jon and his partner Kim, who's always in the class. 

I've been going to spin at least 3x a week with Jon for the past 2 years, and in the past week, both Jon and Kim has told me that I'm looking thinner and more fit. The main thing that I wanted out of starting weight lifting is to see more muscle definition and to see SOME type of change for having work out so often.

While I personally do see a bit of my fat burned off, I'm still slightly shy & embarrassed for any transformation photos. Perhaps we'll have to wait until the full 12 weeks is over. Until then, thanks for sticking with me on my journey to become more fit in 2014!

Friday, July 25, 2014

NYC: Free Shakespeare in the Park & How to Get Tickets!

Happy Friday! Wondering what you should do this weekend? How about going to see Free Shakespeare in the Park? My first time experiencing Shakespeare in the Park was when my High School English teacher took the class to see it in our local park over fifthteen years ago (wow that really dates me huh? At the time, I was already impressed with the entire production, however, New York's version of Shakespeare in the Park is a million times more grand than what I experienced all those years ago.


Shakespeare in the Park actually started in New York City. This 51 year old annual tradition in Manhattan located in the beautiful Delacorte Theater, right in the middle of Central Park. It has stadium seating with beautiful views of the Belvedere Castle and greenery that you learn to appreciate when living in the city. Not to mention, since the show usually starts at 8, you can see the sun slowly set as you watch the show. I've gone to shows for the past four summers that I've lived here, and there's honestly nothing like it.

Every summer, there are two different productions, this year is for Much Ado about Nothing which I saw a month ago, and King Lear is available to watch from July 22-August 17 so it's definitely not too late to partake in this amazing NYC tradition! This year's production of King Lear features John Lithgow (Hello 3rd Rock from the Sun!) - love how there are always celebrity actors in these shows. One year I saw Amy Adams in Into the Woods, which was an awesome musical.

A secret picture (pictures prohibited! I'm such a badass) of Into the Woods - Loved this set!

How to get tickets for Shakespeare in the Park

The best part about Shakespeare in the Park is that tickets are free. However, the worst part about Shakespeare in the Park is that... well, tickets are free, so you'll have to jump through some hoops to get it. There are three ways to get tickets and I've tried two of the three methods:

1. Be hardcore & wait in line. The most traditional route which is to wait for them. People are crazy about getting tickets to Shakespeare in the Park since it is such a great production. So, like many things in New York, there are people who would camp overnight for it. The park doesn't open until 6AM, but there will be people waiting outside long before the park opens. Tickets get distributed at noon, here's all the rules around that.

My recommendation would be to get to the park entrance at W81st and Central Park West at around 5:30AM and you'll have a pretty sure chance of getting tickets, especially on nights in August since more and more people hear about it. Let's face it, if you're lining up for 6+ hours for tickets anyway, you don't want to take the risk of them running out of tickets by the time you get there. I'd say don't even bother trying to line up starting at 7:30AM because you'll honestly be too late.

2. *RECOMMENDED* Sign up for the Virtual Ticketing Lottery . In lieu of lining up for 6+ hours, you can try your luck in entering for the daily drawing that's online. All you have to do is just go to their website and add your e-mail and address in for a drawing. You'll know by around noon-1PM if you got tickets, and have a short time window between 5-7PM to pick up tickets from the theatre.

Some people get lucky with virtual ticketing - I've actually gotten pretty lucky *knock on wood*, and have been able to get tickets within the first 5 times entering the lottery. I've heard from others that they consistently try without much success, but I've personally gotten tickets 5 times this way - so definitely not impossible, and definitely worth a shot!

3. Buy tickets. I've seen deals on Gilt City from time to time with tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. I know that other supporters of the Public Theatre also gets tickets, however the prices for these start at around $150, which is a bit pricey when I know I can get tickets for free.

No matter how you decide to get tickets, go see a show in Central Park this summer, you won't regret it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How I Finally Started Weight Lifting with the #BiteSizedArmy

Readers, get ready for more #gymselfies on my Instagram cause I've finally started one of the 10 things that I've set out to accomplish in 2014 - to start lifting, bro. I know we're more than halfway over with the year, but this is an exciting update for me. I've always known that I needed to change things up when it comes to workouts, but you guys know how much I love spin. The beginning of this year, I was booking back-to-back spin classes and felt like a beast when I powered through them and broke personal records. While spin is a great cardio workout, I've long plateaued in terms of any additional fitness gains besides endurance. I wanted to see more physical changes for having worked out 3-4 times a week.

Earlier this year, I started going to Soul Cycle a few times a week which is how I started to add weights back into my training since a class always includes roughy 5 minutes of arm exercises near the end of class. The weights that we used were very light, usually just 2-3 pounds, but after doing this with high reps for a few weeks, I actually started to feel more muscle definition in my arms. This was really surprising to me, and was a clear sign that I needed really needed to start doing weights but had no idea where to start.

I looked at different programs on BodyBuiliding.com but it just seemed really intimidating so I kept putting it off. So, how did I finally break this cycle of all spin and weights intimidation? I joined the #BiteSizedArmy challenge through Instagram!

You see, for the past few months I have continues to follow more people who focused a lot on their fitness. Even though I don't do yoga often, I loved following FitQueenIrene and Lola_Beth for their beautiful yoga poses. My cousin introduced me to ChaleneJohnson and NatalieJillFit who has the amazing workouts on their Insta accounts - though I have to admit I've only watched the workouts and have never done them myself, lol. I love seeing their daily posts about fitness and it keeps me motivated. Soon after my 2.5 week trip to Europe, I happened to stumble upon BiteSizedFitness and saw that she was encouraging people to join her new 12-week fitness program, for free!

While I've seen similar programs in the past on BodyBuilding.com, this challenge that was set out by Alyse at BiteSizedArmy was a lot less intimidating because I know that she's developed for beginners - and mainly for the ladies, though I'm sure guys can use the workout too cause it's tough! She gives us her support, encouragement and motivation via Instagram, uploads a few YouTube workout videos and she even set up a forum on her awesome site for everyone who's joined the challenge to interact and help each other through.

Something about knowing that other weight lifting newbies were starting out on this journey with me really gave me the final push that I needed to finally to start this goal I had set up for myself in 2014!

As I write this post, I am getting into the beginning of my 5th week (out of 12) of the challenge - already 1/3 of the way through!  While there have been some days that I have skipped during this time (ahem 4th of July long weekend), I am proud to say that that have been able to go to the gym 5x a week most of the time to complete each of the sets. #proudmoment

If there are any of you out there who set out resolutions in 2014 to be more fit (and I know you are out there!!), I challenge you to join us in the BiteSizedArmy and give this 12 week program a try! Go join at BiteSizedArmy.com to get weekly workouts & tips on nutrition (which I haven't been following personally). Also follow BiteSizedArmy on Instagram - it isn't too late to get started.

Do you lift & have regular weight training routine? How do you set up your workouts? Would love to hear from you!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Best Bites of Italy #4: Fried Artichoke at Giggetto

This is the 4th post in my Best Bites of Italy series, a round-up of the best eats during my 2 week trip through Rome, Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre. Other good eats include Renato e LuisaLa Gelateria del Teatro, and La Pizza del Teatro in Rome.

Next up on the Best Bites of Italy series is this fried artichoke from Giggetto al Portico d'Ottavia. While I wouldn't say it was one of the best bites of our Italy trip, I thought it was unique enough to write about it on le blog.

After a long day of being tourists at the Colosseum, Roman Forums and other Roman hot spots, J and I took the walk from Central Rome over to Trastevere, which is considered the "Brooklyn" of Rome. On our way there, we walked through the Jewish Ghetto and spotted Giggetto, a restaurant that we kept hearing about. First from our food tour with Sophie, and then a few other times from other people's lists of Rome recommendations. It's one of the few places everyone goes to for fried artichokes, so of course I was intrigued.
Carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style fried artichokes, is a signature dish in Roman Jewish cooking and a very popular dish in Rome. Fried artichokes is as it sounds, fresh artichokes that have been fried in olive oil. The quality of artichokes in Italy is just phenomenal, so this particular preparation just lets the ingredient shine. Since the artichokes here are a bit younger, the leaves are able to separate more as it fries, turning it into a full blooming flower. I loved the bouquet of artichokes that are often featured in front of restaurants and in markets.

At around 8pm on a Saturday night, the restaurant was still half empty, so J and I thought we had a shot to do a quick dine and dash before our real dinner reservation at 10pm. But when we started talking to the hose, he wouldn't let us sit down to just have the appetizer without a reservation - the restaurant was going to be full he said. With a bit of back and forth, we realized that they weren't going to let us sit down to try this speciality. J asked if we could bring it to go but the server kind of shrugged us off.

We stood there waiting for about 5 minutes - a bit lost and confused - just lingering around hoping they'd come around. Our determination pulls through as someone who looks like the manager comes up to us and asks us how many we wanted. Two we said, and voila, €10 and 10 minutes later, the server came out with a to go bag of 2 fried artichokes for us. Score! Ze stupid American tourist strikes again. ;)


With so many outdoor piazzas around in Rome, we decided that we could just walk around to find a bench to enjoy these artichokes. But the longer we walked, the more the foodie inside me was screaming: What if these fried artichokes become soggy!?? You must eat it NOWWWW!
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